by Laura McIlwaine March 09, 2020

Covid-19 has recently been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and people are being advised to wash their hands and use hand sanitizer frequently in an effort to slow down the spread of the virus. Good hygiene is essential to “flatten the curve” and give our health system a chance to keep up with the influx of patients requiring care.

While washing your hands with soap and water is your best defence, if you wish to use a hand sanitizer when out and about, and you cannot source it in your local supermarket or pharmacy, use the recipes below. 

What is Hand Sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer is a liquid or gel used to decrease infectious agents (such as viruses) on the hands.  It is commonly used in a healthcare setting, however many consumers like the convenience of hand sanitizer to disinfect their hands while on the go.

Commercial hand sanitizers are typically alcohol-based and contain some combination of isopropyl alcohol, ethanol or n-proponol. Alcohol has been used as an antiseptic since the mid 1300’s and is effective at killing different types of microbes, including both viruses and bacteria. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer has been commonly used in western society since the 1980’s.

How Does Hand Sanitizer Work?

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer works by unfolding and inactivating the proteins of viruses and bacteria. Alcohol essentially dissolves the outer coating of bacteria and viruses, which ultimately ends up killing the microbes.

Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer 

While commercial alcohol-based hand sanitizers are the best option in your fight against Covid-19 if you don't have clean water and soap nearby, and with the shelves stripped bare of commercial hand sanitizers, making your own can provide some protection, with alcohol-based hand sanitizer being your best best to kill viruses.

Medical and scientific experts have stated that an alcohol content of 60-95% is required to reliably destroy viruses such as Covid-19. At these concentrations alcohol breaks down the envelope around the coronavirus and denatures the proteins inside the outer envelope.

While there are some gentle natural hand sanitizers you can make using ingredients such as witch hazel, the alcohol content in these won't be sufficient defence against Covid-19.

Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizer (World Health Organization Recipe)

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended two recipes for hand sanitizer with alcohol, outlined in this brochure. Note that they make a 10L batch so adjust quantities for the volume you wish to make. 

Glycerol will help to keep your hands moisturized. Hydrogen peroxide is included to kill any bacterial spores on your equipment - it is not there to kill bacteria on your hands.

With the Covid-19 pandemic growing in intensity each day, we recommend you make an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you can source the raw ingredients (my local pharmacy this week advised me they have sold out of ethanol and isopropyl alcohol and cannot order it at present due to no supply chain). 

Alternate Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Recipe

If you cannot source the ingredients to make the WHO recipe, my friend, retired chemist David Hartman, suggests you try the following.

WARNING: alcohol is flammable.

Here's the go:

1. You need at least 60% or at least 2/3 by volume of pure alcohol. You can use methylated spirits (Australia) or denatured alcohol (US) or 90+% isopropyl (US). Pure alcohol works fine, but it is very runny and will dry your skin - and it's rather flammable. If supermarkets and pharmacies are out of stock, try hardware or paint stores. Some industrial suppliers sell straight isopropyl - usually in large jugs.

2. Aloe vera seems to be the favourite skin moisturiser to go with the alcohol - it leaves minimal residue. You can find aloe vera in the hand lotion or sunscreen section of pharmacies and some office supply stores. Volume wise, try a mix of 2/3 cup of isopropyl (or methylated spirits) to 1/3 cup aloe vera gel. Note: If you cannot source aloe vera gel (due to panic buying) and you can rinse immediately afterwards, mixing alcohol with liquid hand soap works.

3. You'll need an air-tight storage container(s), such as a soda bottle or glass jar. Mix one bottle/jar of aloe with 2-3 of the same volume of alcohol (or one measure aloe to 2-3 measures alcohol). Mix or shake until thoroughly blended. If too thick, add more alcohol.

4. Add some essential oils or scent if you like. Save your squeeze/pump bottles for future use, we don't know how long this virus is going to be around.

Keep a squeeze bottle in your handbag and car to treat hands after leaving EVERY stop. Take care out there!

Final Thoughts

Good hygiene is essential for helping to slow the spread of viruses such as Covid-19.  Washing your hands with soap and clean water is your best defence, however hand sanitizers are helpful when on the go and alcohol-based hand sanitizers are the most effective defence against viruses. By making your own hand sanitizer you’ll help keep your hands clean and minimise the risk to yourself and our community.

If you’d like more tips, recipes and strategies to live a simpler, more self sufficient life, check out my Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs.It’s there where I guide you step by step through my framework for living sustainably in the modern world and you'll join a supportive community actively taking steps to live today without harming tomorrow. 


What are your best uses for hand sanitizer? Share in the comments below!

Laura McIlwaine
Laura McIlwaine

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